Larry Nance Jr. has career-high night in first Cavaliers start

2018 Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

Over the weekend, the Cleveland Cavaliers announced that starting center Tristan Thompson would miss multiple games due to a sprained ankle.

At the time, the Cavaliers had lost three out of their last four games and were preparing for a matchup with Andre Drummond, Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons on Monday.

Given the fact that Thompson was Cleveland’s only true center on the roster, it was seemingly going to be a significant blow to the struggling club. How would Larry Nance Jr., a 6’9” power forward, be able to contain Drummond, who would have a massive size advantage over him?

Would the Cavaliers rely on youngster Ante Zizic to play quality minutes off the bench? He was called up from the G-League and would seemingly struggle against either Griffin or Drummond. Would LeBron even be asked to play the five?

Luckily for Cleveland, one player stepped up in their important 112-90 victory on Monday. Although it’s just one game, Thompson’s absence might not end up being too detrimental to the club.

2018 Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

Outplaying Drummond, Nance posted 22 points on 9-of-15 shooting and added 15 rebounds, an assist and two steals in 32 minutes. Drummond went a perfect 5-for-5 shooting and posted 15 points, nine assists an assist, two steals and a block in 30 minutes. Although Nance has traditionally struggled to stay out of foul trouble from time to time, it was Drummond who was somewhat limited in that regard.

Most of all, Nance played with the same energy and intensity that he displayed while coming off the bench. His hustle plays and quality decision-making on the offensive end of the court were not portrayed in the box score, but were evident. 

What’s most notable is that Nance surpassed his previous career high when he nailed a jump shot at the free throw line on the first scoring play after halftime. That gave him 20 points. 

Finishing with 22 points, it’s obvious that Nance could have had even more of a monster game if he continued to be ultra-aggressive on the offensive end of the floor. At halftime, he had 18 points and 10 boards. His 15 rebounds were also a career-high.

Nance held his own despite the size disadvantage against Drummond and also stacked up well against Griffin, who he turned the clock back on. In many ways, he resembled a younger, more explosive Griffin in this contest. In the first half alone, he was able to find space on the interior and slam home five dunks.

That’s an easy way to rack up points.

While Thompson will presumably return in the near future, there’s no guarantee that Nance will revert back to his bench role when that time comes. If he plays with the same tenacity and has similar success in future contests, coach Tyronn Lue’s decision will be relatively easy.

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